Radio waves are a type of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum longer than infrared light. Radio waves have frequencies from 300 GHz to as low as 3 kHz, and corresponding wavelengths ranging from 1 millimeter (0.039 in) to 100 kilometers (62 mi). Like all other electromagnetic waves, they travel at the speed of light. Naturally occurring radio waves are made by lightning, or by astronomical objects. Artificially generated radio waves are used for fixed and mobile radio communication, broadcasting, radar and other navigation systems, communications satellites, computer networks and innumerable other applications. Different frequencies of radio waves have different propagation characteristics in the Earth's atmosphere; long waves may cover a part of the Earth very consistently, shorter waves can reflect off the ionosphere and travel around the world, and much shorter wavelengths bend or reflect very little and travel on a line of sight.
To prevent interference between different users, the artificial generation and use of radio waves is strictly regulated by law, coordinated by an international body called the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). The radio spectrum is divided into a number of radio bands on the basis of frequency, allocated to different uses.
Discovery and utilization
Radio waves were first predicted by mathematical work done in 1867 by Scottish mathematical physicist James Clerk Maxwell. Maxwell noticed wavelike properties of light and similarities in electrical and magnetic observations. He then proposed equations that described light waves and radio waves as waves of electromagnetism that travel in space, radiated by a charged particle as it undergoes acceleration. In 1887, Heinrich Hertz demonstrated the reality of Maxwell's electromagnetic waves by experimentally generating radio waves in his laboratory. Many inventions followed, making the use of radio waves to transfer information through space.
The study of electromagnetic phenomena such as reflection, refraction, polarization, diffraction, and absorption is of critical importance in the study of how radio waves move in free space and over the surface of the Earth. Different frequencies experience different combinations of these phenomena in the Earth's atmosphere, making certain radio bands more useful for specific purposes than others.
Speed, wavelength and frequency
The wavelength is the distance from one peak of the wave's electric field to the next, and is inversely proportional to the frequency of the wave. The distance a radio wave travels in one second, in a vacuum, is 299,792,458 meters (983,571,056 ft) which is the wavelength of a 1 hertz radio signal. A 1 megahertz radio signal has a wavelength of 299.8 meters (984 ft).
In order to receive radio signals, for instance from AM/FM radio stations, a radio antenna must be used. However, since the antenna will pick up thousands of radio signals at a time, a radio tuner is necessary to tune in a particular signal. This is typically done via a resonator (in its simplest form, a circuit with a capacitor, inductor, or crystal oscillator, but many modern radios use Phase Locked Loop systems). The resonator is configured to resonate at a particular frequency, allowing the tuner to amplify sine waves at that radio frequency and ignore other sine waves. Usually, either the inductor or the capacitor of the resonator is adjustable, allowing the user to change the frequency at which it resonates.
Radio frequency (RF) energy has been used in medical treatments for over 75 years generally for minimally invasive surgeries and coagulation, including the treatment of sleep apnea. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses radio frequency waves to generate images of the human body.
Effects on the human body
Extremely low frequency RF with electric field levels in the low kV/m range are known to induce perceivable currents within the human body that create an annoying tingling sensation. These currents will typically flow to ground through a contact surface such as the feet, or arc to ground where the body is well insulated.
Canadian safety code 6 recommends electric field limits of 100 kV/m for pulsed EMF to prevent air breakdown and spark discharges. An additional rationale for EMF restrictions is to avoid auditory effects and energy-induced unconsciousness.
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